Map by Oran

Streetcars are not the solution to every transportation problem, but they do have their role. In particular, they move people within a neighborhood, from one neighborhood to an adjacent one, and connect to rapid transit. Although buses fill this role too, they don’t support as many riders on a route because of rail bias, branding, capacity issues, and a slow and rough ride. So while I fully support Seattle Subway‘s push for a high quality rapid rail network throughout our city, I also think we need the Transit Master Plan’s (TMP) streetcar network.

In fact, I don’t think the TMP goes far enough. There are other corridors worthy of study. One is along Rainier Avenue South. The corridor has good land use (for neighborhoods outside the core), high transit ridership, and is rapidly developing, but it was only tapped for some bus improvements in the Transit Master Plan and largly ignored in the Bicycle Master Plan. The standard attributes of a streetcar would fix many of the problems with existing service and such a project would serve as a catalyst for a series of transportation enhancements.

As the map illustrates, the line would connect to the First Hill Streetcar tracks at Rainier Avenue and Jackson and run south to S Othello Street, turn west and terminate outside the Othello Link Station. The remainder of the 7’s current route could be serviced by a trolleybus tail (see Bruce’s Better 7 post). Operationally, it could be run as two interlined routes that split at Jackson; the old 7 going to Downtown (and beyond?) and the old 9 going up First Hill and then Capitol Hill. Such connections would further realize the original purpose of the First Hill Streetcar: as a substitute for a lost Link stop. For those on First Hill or in the Central District wanting to head east or south on Link, there would be no need to backtrack to IDS. Instead, there would be easy connections to East Link at I-90 or Central Link at Mt. Baker Station. Riders would experience the speed and comfort benefits that come with a streetcar and the increased mobility that comes with connections to 5 Link Stations (Othello, Mt. Baker, I90/Rainier and either Capitol Hill or International District Station).

Find out why else it’s a good idea below the fold.

Thanks to its past as a historic streetcar route (actually predating the road), Rainier Avenue S runs through moderate density most of its length. With decent land use and the demographics of the area, route 7 is well used throughout the day (a top 25% core route). Anecdotally, it is not always packed but it is never empty. Even the 9EX, with its limited schedule, performs well.

However, the 7 is not fast. Many of the same riders that that make the route popular often slow it to a crawl. Cash payment (ORCA adoption is below 50%), use of the wheelchair lift, and non-commute trips with a week’s worth of shopping are all common. Combine those factors with high ridership and close stop spacing and it all adds up to a slow and frustrating trip. According to Google Transit, it takes 17 minutes to get from Rainier and Othello to Mount Baker Station (midday, with no traffic and no delays) compared to just 7 minutes driving or 7 minutes for Link to travel a similar distance.

The wider stop spacing, offboard fare payment, level boardings, and Transit Signal Priority (TSP) that generally come with a streetcar would solve most, if not all, of the above problems, improving the speed and reliability of trips through the corridor. Unlike in South Lake Union, traffic is rarely stop and go and the there are only a few intersections where Transit Signal Priority implementation could be a challenge.

Then there is the race and social justice aspect. So far all of Seattle’s potential streetcar routes are in Downtown and North Seattle. Putting a line down Rainier would go far to dispel the myth that streetcars are just for white people.

And finally, the more extensive our streetcar network, the more control Seattle has over our transit system.

A streetcar on Rainier is not as radical an idea as you might think. In 2008 SDOT looked at an extension of the FHSC down Rainier past the Rainier/I90 Freeway Station and terminating at Mount Baker Station when preparing the Seattle Streetcar Network Plan. “No significant technical or operational flaws were identified” from Jackson to McClellan. At the time it was dropped from further study due to projected low ridership. However SDOT was only looking at ridership on the segment from Mount Baker Station to International District Station. With such a short extension and narrow scope they concluded that Central Link and the now (mostly dead) Central Line Streetcar would serve more potential riders.

The rails themselves could be only the beginning. Rainier is literally a highway, and there are no safe, flat north-south bicycle routes in the Southeast. Do a rechannelization, add cycletracks and pedestrian amenities as is being done on Broadway for the First Hill Streetcar, and turn Rainier into a street much more comfortable to walk and bike along. Consider how pleasant it is to walk around Columbia City. There are places all along Rainier with the bones to be great walkable areas: they just need infrastructure investments. Assuming similar costs to the Broadway makeover ($53.6 million per mile), the entire project would cost around $284 million.

Streetcars have a mixed reputation in the transit community. However, like every other mode they have their place. Traffic within and between neighborhoods, and connections to rapid transit, are critical roles for transit in the Rainier Valley and roles well suited for streetcars. Crucially, the worst things about the 7 are the things that a change of mode are likely to fix. Additionally, streetcars have a proven track record of spurring development and attracting choice riders, and have long coattails that other street/neighborhood improvements ride in on. For all those reasons I think that Seattle needs more lines than the Transit Master Plan suggests, not fewer. Rainier Avenue S deserves a longer look.

94 Replies to “The Case for a Rainier Avenue Streetcar”

  1. Rainier Ave. S. may be more in need of a road diet than any other street in Seattle. It would have huge benefits. The average daily traffic at the southern end is well within SDOT’s limit for doing road diets. The part above I-90 is harder.

    1. Having worked on Rainier Avenue (Bush and Rainer) I found it was rich in retail businesses…shops, restaurant…but completely pedestrian unfriendly.

      As the post states, Rainier yet another street that was turned into a highway. Yet it is such a classic people type place that it would be well served by a road diet and rail. Would businesses suffer? I am not so sure because having a bunch of cars racing along to try and get from Seattle to the highways does not help the local stores. At the same time, those cars impede the ones that simply want to go to the supermarket and pick up the family groceries. You can have cars doing local trips and also have transit. It is the long distance traffic that is the problem (and here we have differences of opinion as to why..but I think we all agree that neighborhood streets should not be used as highways).

      It is sad because it could really be both a lively place and a source of lower cost apartments. If you want some density, this is a natural place to build it and it could service both the existing population and any newcomers who need transit to get to work.

      1. I would like to see the north part of Rainier Avenue (Jackson to MBTC) maintain and maybe expand its mix of light industrial type businesses. It’s an easy area to commute to with all the transit options available. Instead of looking to build residence around the MBTC, lets look to make that an employment center.

  2. Although it used to be Sr 167 that route has been truncated at grady way so Rainier ave is no longer a state highway. nonetheless it is a busy road and I’ve got no reasonable dissent to the merits of a streetcar. Disappointing that we tore these up in the 30s and 40s and now are struggling with that poor choice. bus < streetcar.

      1. In the best way. Link suffers from an identity crisis, having too many masters along the way. It tries to emulate BART with long trains, few stops, and connecting our anchor cities like Tacoma and Everett with Seattle.
        It then tries to be the inner city subway system many large cities have, with stops along MLK – touting urban renewal under the TOD flag.
        That’s a fine diversion for a streetcar or even a LRT spur, but now the MLK time penalty kills the BART idea anywhere from about Federal Way or Shoreline and beyond. It will never compete with buses on a well regulated HOV lane system.
        Dense, intercity rail, with stops every 3/4 mile is great, and fully grade separated is even better.
        Bart style stops every several miles caters to suburban cities needs to consolidate express buses, then falls short with all the meandering and surface running on MLK.
        Pick one and do it right, or stay home.

      2. The thing is if LINK had run through SODO with wide stop spacings and stayed in the SR-99 corridor it really wouldn’t have helped much. Even with BART style stop spacing it is rarely going to be faster than point-to-point freeway express service. South of S. 200th the demand and density just isn’t there to justify rail. Ridership would be light even without the Rainier Valley detour.

      3. Ridership is not light, it already matches Metro’s highest-ridership route route and ST Express routes. That’s before half its stations are built, and before the zoning potential around MLK stations is filled in.

        If a bypass track is built, the MLK segment would probably become a shuttle rather than just abandoned.

        The fact that Link exists is tied to the Rainier Valley segment. That’s what won the federal grant and got urbanists to support it. It’s likely that Link would never have gotten off the ground without that segment.

      4. It’s already obvious that Westlake-Lynnwood, Westlake-Everett, and Westlake-Bellevue will be as fast as express buses, while Westlake-SeaTac and further south will be slower. Link is not Sounder; it’s not meant to hot-skip it to Federal Way. It’s meant to serve the neighborhoods in between and get to Federal Way whenever it does.

      5. I’m sorry, Mike. By any real-world standard, Link ridership is light.

        As for the section below SeaTac that Chris is actually talking about, the most stratospheric projection is something like 10,000 one-way boardings per weekday. It’s a pathetic place for rail.

      6. It’s gradually surpassing Metro and becoming more cost-effective than Metro, and it already runs more frequently than any Metro route or paired routes except the 71/72/73X. That’s substantial progress. It was nice this afternoon to wait 8 minutes for a train rather than 15 or 30 minutes for a bus. We need more of that, not less.

        Saying it’s less ridership than other cities, well Seattle is less dense than other cities, and that accounts for most of the difference right there. But the thing to do is to increase density, not shortchange transit that people still need even if their city is less dense.

      7. The 36 (11 outbound trips 4:30-5:30 pm) and 41 (14 outbound trips during that hour) run more frequently than Link during peak of peak.

      8. I’m talking about the average daily frequency, not in one narrow hour. Peak-hour frequency doesn’t help 75% of the time.

      9. I never said Link wasn’t the best thing around, or that it isn’t the obvious choice should it happen to be going in the direction you’re going and stop anywhere near where you want to stop.

        But you cannot deny that usage is light, in part because it meets the above criteria for so few people under so few circumstances. Something that Skip Past Capitol Hill Link and the Federal Boondoggle Way extension will do painfully little to rectify.

  3. “… use of the wheelchair lift, and non-commute trips with a week’s worth of shopping are all common. Combine those factors with high ridership and close stop spacing and it all adds up to a slow and frustrating trip.”

    Yet for a large portion of that community (the elderly, disabled, low income), what you portrayed as negatives, are positives. There has to be room in our community for local, workhorse-type routes. I disagree with the idea that if a route isn’t frequent and quick, it’s broken. There’s a role for that type of slower, workhorse route, just as there’s a role quicker routes with increased stop spacing.

    Matthew, I’d be very interested to know how many stops the Rainier streetcar would have vs the route 7. Do you have a rough idea of how many there would be? Or how many route 7 stops you would remove?

    1. How is having to use a lift instead of just rolling onto the train a positive for anyone involved?

      1. I think he means that the bus provides mobility to the mobility impaired. Because the 7 stops so frequently people who otherwise could not travel can.

      2. Obviously, a lift is less than ideal. Maybe I just have a higher level of tolerance and patience for that kind of delay.

        Have you made any projections as to how much quicker the streetcar would be than the route 7? For example, how many less minutes would it take the streetcar to get from Othello to Dearborn?

      3. Let’s not forget that new trolleys are being ordered to replace the Bredas. They’ll have more open seating plus ramps instead of lifts, not to mention air conditioning.

    2. Unless you happen to live right along Ranier, you’re going to have to walk a bit to get to the 7 anyway, no matter how frequent the stops are. And, even then, when you get off the 7, except for a handful of destinations that happen to be right next to #7 bus stops, you will still have to walk a ways. Even downtown, you will still end up having to walk a couple blocks if your destination is on 1st, 2nd, 4th, or 5th, rather than 3rd.

      Bottom line: For people that have severe mobility issues, transit can only work for a tiny handful of trips. Maybe, if you’re very careful about choosing where to live, you can make sure the 2 or 3 places you visit most frequently are in that handful, but that’s it. Everywhere else you might ever want to go, you’d better have either a car or a friend to drive you.

      For the rest of us, we want transit that is fast, frequent, and reliable, and if it means we have to get a small amount of exercise in order to use it, so be it.

      1. asdf, I love it. Recent gentrifiers of the RV are lecturing long time elderly and disabled residents that they should be more careful about where they choose to live?

      2. I actually agree with Sam here. Since Link provides high speeds with infrequent stops for those willing to walk, it is appropriate for the 7 (or a replacement streetcar) to have more frequent stops, such as 1/4 mile average. If a Rainier streetcar had 1/2-mile or more stop spacing, Metro would end up running a local diesel bus shadow route with additional stops. And that destroys any efficiencies gained by adding the streetcar.

        Even with 1/4-mile stops, I prefer the streetcar over the bus for capacity and level-boarding reasons.

      3. I don’t think most of us would like to see a streetcar as being a local-stop version of Link. Two different bloggers here have advocated moving the 7 away from downtown to avoid competing with Link.

      4. 1/4 mile is Metro’s current standard. The argument for Rainier (which I haven’t verified) is that the stops are closer than 1/4 mile, and that that slows down the bus excessively.

  4. Some comments:

    Someday I hope that the FHSC becomes 2 streetcar routes: one that goes up Jackson into the Central District and another that runs down Rainier to connect to East Link. I think a streetcar connection between Capitol Hill/First Hill and East Link/Central Link at MBTC will be a priority, but further south isn’t as important.

    I’m a longtime Rainier Valley resident and I hated the “Better 7” plan. Read my comments there. Metro needs to look carefully at the need for the Prentice Street tail. The 106 seems to have cannibalized a large chunk of the ridership in the Rainier View area. When that area was served only by the 7 Prentice and the old 42 there probably was enough ridership to justify frequent service on the Prentice loop, but since the 106 was created, ridership on the Prentice loop has fallen dramatically. I thought that the Prentice loop would have been best served as an extension of the 39, but that idea isn’t feasible with the recent changes to the 39.

    Ridership on the current 7 is good, but the 9 (in RV) only gets crowded during the peak hours in the peak direction. The rest of the day it’s pretty empty. Also, RV residents worked many years to get Metro to eliminate the turnback trips at Graham and Rose Streets. A one bus connection between Rainier Beach and the rest of the Valley is what the RV riders want. The 7 terminal could be moved to Rainier Beach Station, but please don’t try to complicate a simple trip between Rainier Beach and Mt. Baker by requiring a transfer.

  5. Rainier Ave is a highway and I would love some changes that would “activate” it as a pedestrian-friendly space. The police are regularly (every couple weeks?) out underneath the I-90 overpass pulling over speeders [1]. When I drive on it at only 30 mph (the speed limit), I’m inevitably passed numerous times. One thing that would have to change, though, if you put a streetcar in are much better light timings. Right now, it can take 90 seconds or more for a walk signal to cross Rainier (I have used a stop watch). This doesn’t seem like much, but when it’s at a time of day when there’s maybe a car every 20 seconds (and it’s raining) , it’s galling and obvious how second class you, the pedestrian, is. A street car seems like it would make the street more obviously “for everyone” with the constant reminder of rail lines.

    1. yeah Im just disappointed the state no longer acknowledges Rainier as a highway. It does move a lot of people and i think a streetcar makes sense.

  6. I’d be all for this … especially because the connection opportunities that it would provide. Having a connection from Broadway to Rainier would be a nice addition to the FHS …

    My only concern is that the city is planning everything with only the short streetcars in mind. Planning really should consider longer models of streetcars in order to accommodate future growth.

    For instance, Inekon, who makes the streetcars we use (the Trio), has a 5-segment version, called the Pento ( ). But if we were to get them every single stop would have to be rebuilt.

    I think if a tram line were run down Rainier you’d have to have larger vehicles (if not at first, pretty soon thereafter.)

    1. At the very least they should consider models that can be coupled into multiple units like LRV cars. Also I’d like to see vehicles with better top speeds and acceleration. The Inekon cars here and in Portland seem woefully underpowered.

      1. The Skoda/Inkons can go about 45, although they are setup for slower city use. Portland used to have a stretch of track along Moody Ave where they could open up to 45 MPH without problems though. And if you really wanted higher speed you could probally also have them re-geared for that. You can buy a version of the Skoda 3T (single ended version of the 10t) that does have MU/Coupling capability, I’m sure this could be incorporated into the 10t/Inkeon design as well.

  7. “The wider stop spacing, offboard fare payment, level boardings, and Transit Signal Priority (TSP) that generally come with a streetcar would solve most, if not all, of the above problems, improving the speed and reliability of trips through the corridor.”

    There is no reason these improvements can’t be done with a bus. In fact, that’s the whole idea behind RapidRide! If you want reliability, don’t build a streetcar in mixed traffic–it just won’t work. A bus at least has the option to go around obstacles…here in Portland the streetcar is constantly getting stuck behind loading trucks and cars trying to park. I think it can make sense to use streetcars as central city circulators, or they can make sense longer-distance using at least some exclusive right-of-way. Otherwise, bus is better.

    1. I guarantee you that in serious traffic, Portland buses spend more time stuck in it than the MAX does. MAX gets considerable lane reservation precisely because trains can’t drive around obstacles.

      “Rapid Ride” spends fifteen minutes stuck between Bell and Denny precisely because drivers could theoretically take another route. Same with “BAT” lanes it has to run in- Lord! what a great abbreviation.

      The dumbest pencilpusher would never say “Business Access Express Train Track”- pencil or Word, no instrument would write it. When that changes, you could have an argument.

      Mark Dublin

      1. That’s nice. But there is no mention of a lane taking in this post, because there is no room for one on Rainier. That’s why Link down Rainier would have had to be (and should have been) a subway.

        This proposed streetcar will be stuck in traffic.

      2. d.p.
        Depends on the section of Rainier, between Jackson and MLK there is room to take a lane from the car sewer that is Rainier.

        South of MLK, Rainier is much narrower and I agree you really couldn’t find room to give a streetcar an exclusive lane, but the traffic is also lighter.

    2. Zef – Matt’s idea is a complete ped/bike/transit-friendly rebuild of Rainier Av S. Politically, that won’t happen with a Rapid Ride implementation because KC Metro doesn’t own or control and street or have a sufficient capital budget.

      Theoretically, you are correct. If the City of Seattle decided to completely redesign and rebuild Rainier, and in a coordinated fashion Metro decided to launch a trolley-Rapid Ride, most of the same speed improvements would result. Rapid Ride couldn’t match the capacity* or level-boarding features of a streetcar, however.

      *In current practice, there is little capacity difference between a Rapid-Ride coach and the streetcars in service in SLU. However, much longer streetcars can be purchased.

    3. Zef,
      How about something like this:

      Imagine the networks here (especially scenario A or B) with off-board payment, open low-floor trolley buses, all-door boarding, signal priority, bus bulbs, and transit lanes where possible.

      That said I do think the 7, 36, and 48 would be good candidates for routes to replace with streetcars. But I suspect a rapid trolley network would have much better “bang for buck” than a couple of additional streetcar lines.

      1. Notice the entire trolley network could have been built for about half of the cost of this proposal.
        I’m convinced that Seattle is securely screwed for several generations on actually increasing mode shift towards public transit in a significant way.
        Special interest, politics, and mediocrity have won the field.

  8. Piece of transit history: In the early days of the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, Metro seriously studied a bus-only ramp between the Dearborn/Rainier intersection and the transit lanes out of International District Station.

    Since the Tunnel was wired for trolleybuses, it would have been possible to run standard electric buses in addition to the dual-power Bredas between Convention Place and 62nd and Prentice.

    Metro decided that putting the Route 7 into the Tunnel was not worth the $12 million dollar price-tag. A shame. The Route 7 and the Tunnel were both favorites of mine, and I would have driven the modified route to the end of my career.

    I think the idea of a Rainier Valley Tunnel connection is worth another look, tracks or not. I remember at least one blizzard where traffic jammed all night between 12th and Jackson and I-90 cut the Valley off completely from Downtown.

    I’ve also seen street-rail overseas proving that light-rail and streetcar are really the same thing.

    By all the criteria for street rail in Seattle, I really do wonder why Rainier Avenue hasn’t at least even been included for consideration. So I seriously would appreciate hearing the counter-argument.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Why should we spend money now to improve bus connections to the tunnel, when in 10 years, it’s all going to be obsolete. In 2023, the only user of the tunnel will be Link.

    2. i think that it was a dumb decision to exclude route 7 then. it would have been worth the money as it would have sped things up. Now its too late given the pending bus eviction and that $12 million might now be $50 million thanks to inflation.

  9. I don’t agree, partly for selfish reasons. So far southeast Seattle, downtown, SLU, UW, Capitol Hill, and north Seattle all have rail service or will soon. There will be rail to Ballard in the foreseeable future. It would a better investment to extend rail to areas that don’t have it rather than doubling up where it already exists. Even though the city builds the streetcar and ST builds the light rail, there is still only a limited amount of funding to go around, and duplicative service in one area is not the best way to spend that money.

    1. So that is an interesting point, are the people who ride the 7 versus the Link the same population, or are they two populations? After having lived on the 7 line for two years, south of Columbia City, I think that these are two distinct populations. I also think that the number of riders currently is handicaped by the slow slog and by security issues.

      I like the idea of a street car as an alternative, but I think just some serious investment in making the corridor more efficient, no matter the solution, needs to happen.

    2. The 7 is comparable not to Link but to the 8. Link is comparable not to the 7 but to the 7X and 9X. Link and the others are to get in and out of the valley quickly, or if your origin and destination happen to be near stations. The 7 is to travel within the valley and to Little Saigon. There is some overlap, people taking the 7 to downtown for various reasons (ingrained tradition, intimidated by Link, longer walk to a station). But what’s interesting is not the overlap but their unique markets.

      Since Rainier already has trolley wire, an incremental solution would be to add stations and improve the street. Then if a streetcar conversion is desired in the future, the stations would already be there, or at worst they’d just have to be shifted a half-block or less.

  10. Rainier needs help for sure. In the short term it at least needs more safe crossings for pedestrians, especially near the Rainier Food Bank which has no safe crossing within 1/4 mile.

    1. +2

      I volunteer there. The effect of the traffic on both clients and on those who wish to drop off donations is terrible.

    2. Rainier is a mess, for most if not all of it’s run through Seattle, and is a great local example of a STROAD. It needs some serious redesign work to make it safe for all road users, redesign work that I sadly don’t see happening anytime soon. Vehicle movement is still enshrined as the ultimate goal for far too many of our thoroughfares in the area, sadly.

  11. I agree Rainier could be a good corridor but I think it would get a lot of opposition, especially given its close paralleling of Link (all Rainier Valley Link stations are within half a mile of Rainier), and after a future Graham St Station is built it would be even more duplicative. However, another corridor that should really be considered is Beacon Ave, replacing the 36. It is almost always more than a half-mile and up a steep hill from the MLK Link stations. It also has high density and high ridership, plus it has the added benefit of being a very wide street that could conceivable have the median parking taken out in some long stretches for dedicated streetcar lanes and stations. The main barrier would be to figure out what to do about the Jose Rizal Bridge.

    1. This would be awesome. Has it ever been studied? Particularly, are the grades up Beacon Hill too steep for streetcars (without a counterbalance)?

      1. You wouldn’t be running a streetcar E/W on Beacon Hill except for along Othello and Myrtle. IIRC the hill along that corridor is fairly shallow. Even if the current Inekon cars couldn’t handle the grade there are tram models that can.

        As for the Jose Rizal bridge it did have streetcars crossing it prior to 1940. The question is could it handle modern trams or LRVs?

  12. Wheres the article talking about streetcar/light rail for beltown, lower queen anne and queen anne? You know, better transit for places that are already dense …

    1. I believe everyone on the STB staff wants a subway there, Rainier will never have one of those.

  13. When I saw this draft developing I was highly skeptical of the case, but Matt has made a very strong argument that makes me wonder if the merits support it or not. However, as a practical matter connecting with the FHSC may be a deal breaker. No matter how you arrange it, only one of the three branches can have short headways. The other two will have at the very best 15 minute headways, and in the off peak will likely be able to run only every 20 minutes. Given that the Broadway portion is the whole purpose of the FHSC project and the Jackson stretch will allegedly connect with SLU I don’t see how that can work.

    I suppose you end up with the Rainier streetcar terminating in Little Saigon, which is not awesome, or extend the Jackson streetcar and make it so that the two lines cross. On the other hand, while we’re tearing up Rainier maybe we can fix the lousy interface at Mt. Baker.

    1. 1. Split the FHSC into 2 routes: (A) Capitol Hill/First Hill to Rainier Valley/East Link/MBTC and (B) Pioneer Square/ID/Jackson Street to East Link/MBTC. That creates connections between the eastside and FH/CH without going downtown. That’s Phase I, if money and demand are sufficient, then the streetcar can be extended further south in future phases.
      2. With local streetcar service between downtown and MBTC, run the 7 on an express route between downtown and MBTC (likely on Dearborn) stopping only at 23rd Ave and I-90.
      3. Stop worrying about Prentice Street! Ridership is near zero, even at peak hours and stringing wire on Othello for a Prentice to Othello shuttle is pointless.

      1. The (B) streetcar mention above would run on Jackson Street to at least 23rd Avenue and turn south to serve Judkins Park area on its way to East Link.

      2. Send the east-west line to 23rd or MLK. Then run it constantly. The ridership is there.

        Then you can dump the 4, and so something different with the 14.

    2. Crossing at Jackson makes a heck of a lot more sense than what the FHSC will actually be doing. Once the subway exists in Capitol Hill, and especially if Madison is ever given any kind of useful transit, precisely zero people will be riding the FHSC between the I.D. and anywhere north of Yesler.

      Insist on making the cross transit actually work, and for once Seattle will have cross-transit that actually works!

      I can actually see the merit of a streetcar as far as Mt. Baker station. It will connect multiple rapid transit nodes, without claiming to do any excessive heavy lifting by itself. That section of Rainier is a wide thoroughfare, and could theoretically support lane takings. And as you say, it would afford an opportunity to fix the Mt. Baker connection nightmare.

      In the populated part of Rainier from Columbia City south, though, this would just be caught in traffic.

      1. What traffic? The only traffic south of Jackson is:
        a) Light at 23rd
        b) Area around Mt. Baker Station especially MLK/Rainier Intersection
        c) Columbia City

        There are of course other lights, but those would all be relatively simple to apply TSP to. As to Mt. Baker, one of the good things about rail is that it can have long coattails. The bowtie would be an improvement for everyone (streetcar, buses, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists) moving through that area and especially for those in and around it.

        Yeah, Columbia City would cost a few minutes, but it is relatively short. Buses stay in the right lane the entire time anyway through there so it’s not like a streetcar would be any slower. With the faster boarding and better stop placement they could even be faster.

      2. Rainier has lots and lots of traffic. Only because it rarely crawls to a stop-and-go pace are you not recognizing it as such.

        There are still lots and lots of cars to for the streetcar to back up behind at the lights, to block the streetcar when they wait to make turns, to generally get in the way as they always do wherever mixed-traffic rail exists in the world.

        As for “better stop placement”…

        Pike and Pine. Stops placed such that the streetcar won’t even be able to open its doors until every car preceding it passes through the intersection. Guaranteed red light by the time the doors close.

        Congratulations, connoisseurs of rail biases! It’s 2013, and we’re about to guarantee that it will take three light cycles to go one block!

  14. Don’t get me wrong, I love Streetcars and would love to see more of them throughout the city, should Mayor McGinn stumble across a pot of gold one morning while biking into work. However, I see crumbling infrastructure everywhere and limited budgets for the foreseeable future.

    For the money we would invest in building this worthy extension to the First Hill Streetcar, you could fund significant pedestrian improvements along the entire 7 and 9X corridors, beef up service on the faster 9X, build bus bulbs (if needed anywhere?), buy new trolley buses for the 9X, add passing/express wire for the 9X, provide off-bus payment for both routes, and add TSP for all buses operating in the area…

    Reinventing the wheel here may result in a slightly faster and more comfortable ride, but don’t discount the massive improvements that could be made to existing bus service on this corridor.

    1. I’m sort of in agreement with this. There is a lot of infrastructure work that needs to be done in that part of town. There are lots and lots of people taking the bus within Rainier Valley and that is in part why the 7 takes so long. But the 9 would be far more useful if it ran more frequently and made fewer stops, allowing the 7 to backfill inbetween.

      I think the 9 should run at least 15 minute headways 6+ days a week until 9pm.

      The other thing though is that there is still inadequate east/west connections and this streetcar proposal doesn’t solve that challenge either. There needs to be east/west connections from Seward Park Ave to MLK at several places including Graham, Orcas, Alaska (or Edmunds).

    2. It’s easy to forget that University Link will change the situation signifantly in 3 1/2 years. It will subsume most of the 9X’s ridership and some of the 8’s. The question then becomes, how much Rainier-Broadway bus service should there be?

      The biggest losers if the 9X is eliminated would be those going from Rainier Ave to the hospitals peak hours. How many such riders are there? The First Hill Streetcar will be running by then, allowing a transfer from the 7 at 12th & Jackson, or from Link at Intl Dist or Capitol Hill stns. So can we make the 9X peak only or delete it? There have also been ideas floating around to reroute the 60 to Beacon-12th-Denny-Broadway-10th E-U District. That would help 12th but it wouldn’t address the one-seat ride from Rainier Ave to lower Broadway, if that is necessary. Or the 9X could become local and adopt the 12th routing, but then again 12th is not Broadway. I’m assuming that rerouting the 8 would raise too much opposition.

  15. You would think that transit advocates wouldn’t be concerned with taking away more bus service for this extremely expensive option. Metro is buying new ETB’s and they will be low floor buses which will allow them to kneel and deploy a ramp. All of them will be air conditioned as well.

    Please stop looking for expensive solutions which take away rider options and bus driver’s jobs.

  16. What you said about streets as roads really hits home…I have said this about Kent Kangley for years.

    Half of the problem is in adequate transit..but the other half has been not adding new restricted access highway routes for cars.

    The real problem in this region is that we can’t get the long trip cars off the side streets because the available high speed throughfares aren’t there.

    1. You’ve got it backwards, John. The real problem is that we keep building more freeways and freeway lanes that encourage more car trips, which then clog up more side roads leading to even more demands for “restricted access highways for cars”. Until you figure this out, you’re part of the problem.

      1. We have build a few extra lanes (while also taking away lanes as HOT/HOT) on existing routes.

        But we have built zero (0) new highway routes…this with a 60% population increase.

        East West travel by highway is cumbersome…if not impossible.

      2. That’s because we’ve decided we shouldn’t simply chase population growth with more massive highways, and should really never have done so to begin with. That way lies only endless sprawl, more congestion and pollution, and places no one wants to live.

        More east-west highways would encourage more people to live and work in the suburbs, commuting by car all the while, and sucking investment out of the cities. Oh wait, I’m just another part of the density mafia, out to destroy your nice, secure suburban single-family lifestyle with inconvenient truths like global warming, oil dependency, social issues, and the like.

      3. No it is simply that we tried your way for 20 years and instead of one mess, we’ve got two.

      4. Actually John, the problem is that about the year 2000 Washington State stopped getting more money in Federal gas tax revenue than we were putting in.

        Now we have to pony up for projects such as the 120 new freeway miles for I-405 planned back in 2000.

        Why don’t you flesh out the revenue plan for that one.

      5. So your solution to congestion is to tax everybody, regardless of whether they are able or can afford to drive, and use that money to build more restricted access highways? Brilliant…

    1. Nobody’s shafting anything. Those areas are still on schedule for Link studies and possible construction. Seattle is going ahead with its higher TMP priorities (Madison, Westlake, Eastlake). Nobody in the city/Metro/ST has approved this Rainier streetcar, much less suggested its priority should be raised above the other corridors.

  17. In general I really like this idea because the area already has light rail. It would be a better proposal if the area had grade separated light rail, but that ship has sailed. I really the fact that some people (not on this blog of course) equate light rail with streetcars. I’m sure some folks in general will say “Why add streetcars for that area, they already have light rail?”

    The two are different and complimentary. This is exactly my point. Streetcars will never be a substitute for light rail. If we build a streetcar from downtown to Ballard (using whatever route we want) it will always be extremely slow. It will always be slower than an express bus and much slower than a grade separated rail line. But a streetcar can move people quickly between stops and connect them to light rail for longer journeys. Building this should help drive the point home, which would be worth a lot.

    Whether it actually makes sense from a dollars and cents standpoint is a different matter. Rapid Ride seems like a much better value to me, but obviously at some point it can’t handle the volume and operating streetcars actually becomes cheaper.

    1. “It would be a better proposal if the area had grade separated light rail, but that ship has sailed.”

      It’s still possible to bury the MLK segment at some point. The NYC subways were all elevated before they were put underground. In some future era when we have more money, when Seattle Subway and the TMP are built out, and when highways have become less popular.

      “Rapid Ride seems like a much better value to me, but obviously at some point it can’t handle the volume and operating streetcars actually becomes cheaper.”

      There is a middle road, incremental improvements. Ballard, 45th, Madison, Lake City, and West Seat are higher priority for rail because they don’t have anything comparable to the 7,8,Link’s level of service. In the meantime we can improve the 7 to BRT (Better-than-RapidRide) and improve Rainier Avenue. Then when those other projects are finished, we can come back to re-evaluating a Rainier streetcar.

      1. “Ballard, 45th, Madison, Lake City, and West Seattle are higher priority for rail….” Yes, this would bring us towards the vastly superior network envisioned in 1968 (with the necessary additions of Madison and 45th). Start tying that “X” shape together with frequent crosstown service and you’ve got something!

        Unfortunately, those days of 90% federal funding are long gone.

        I do believe that an extension as far as Mount Baker station is, as d.p. mentioned, valuable as it does connect several rail stations and allows travel from east to south (and v.v.) without actually having to enter downtown and backtrack. This is particularly useful as the powers that be have apparently inexplicably decided that there is no reason for a center platform at ID station that would facilitate E-S transfers.

      2. “The NYC subways were all elevated before they were put underground.”

        There are fewer subways in NY than there were elevateds. Sadly, the replacement featured cutbacks to area of service. On the plus side, the replacements were frequently quad-tracked, while the els were mostly double-tracked.

      1. In DP’s vision, the Rainier subway would have stations every 1/2 mile, so this streetcar would be redundant with it. If on the other hand, Link with its current stop spacing had been built under Rainier, you’d still need a local shadow, which could be either bus or streetcar. However, note that Link turns west at Mt Baker; it wouldn’t serve north Rainier in any case.

  18. Note that Matthew did not say when this should be built, just that it would be worth doing eventually. The question of how this line compares to other transit priorities around the city is separate from whether this line should exist at all. Obviously we wouldn’t be able to build it for 10-20 years without displacing other priority corridors.

    1. Look for a future date where bus replacement, trolley overhead upgrades, and road repaving align. If you’re going to throw a bunch of capital at a corridor anyway, then a Streetcar is worth considering. Until then, you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater in the name of “rail bias”.

      1. Considering the long timelines for both of those and the fact that the schedules are controlled by two seperate entities, is that your clever way of saying ‘never’? ;)

        Rail bias exists. It exists in terms of ridership, it exists in terms of voters, it exists in terms of political will.

        Now I’m not saying this needs to happen tomorrow, but in needs to be at least looked at some point in the future. For the reasons outlined in my post I think there is the possibility it could be next in line after this second round of Streetcar Network expansion is complete.

  19. I think it’s a great idea for study, for reasons that many of the prior posts have mentioned. There needs to be better connectivity with East Link and Capitol Hill in particular. I’m left wondering what happens to the 9X when the First Hill streetcar opens, for example.

    I do however caution that we need to approach streetcars with productivity measures in mind before we go out and lay tracks just because people think it’s a “good idea”. In this corridor, there are lots of buses that move slowly and dwell times are painfully long. Will the 9X and 7X go away? Will the streetcar be made faster with median stations and paid fare areas? Will Metro be able to save putting some vehicles/drivers on the street because the streetcar capacity is greater?

    i propose looking at where we have standing passengers, where we have slow bus speeds and where we have all-day demand — to help us see where our streetcar investment priorities should be.

    1. On a side note, the impact of the Yesler Terrace redevelopment will add several thousand residents and new retail activity. There are several new multi-story housing projects in development from Columbia City north as well. We should envision this project idea not as what we have today but what the future land uses will be.

  20. There shouldn’t be a case for it. Link should have been on Rainer in the first place. Next idea…

  21. I like that we’re talking about ways to make the 7 more efficiently meet the meeds of its current demographics. If turning it into a street car does that, then I’m for it. If it doesn’t, then I’m against it. As always, the devil is in the details. I don’t know how many more hugely expensive transit projects that have mediocre results this city can handle before we just throw up our hands and say “Forget it, let’s build bigger roads instead.” So, if we DO push for a project like this, we need to build it right.

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